Philosophy Bites and Disciplinary Myopia

The Philosophy Bites podcast recently did an interview with Simon Glendenning on “Philosophy’s Two Cultures,” that is analytical philosophy and “continental” philosophy. (“Continental” meaning philosophy somehow characteristic of philosophers who happen to be from mainland Europe, as opposed to the largely English-language, logically-oriented philosophers from, well, England, among other places.)

Glendenning noted that the analytical folks attempted to define themselves in opposition to the continental folks and to purge their work of the wordy, free-range, non-argumentative version of philosophy characteristic of, inter alia, Heidegger, Derrida, Sartre, etc.; that, in essence, the analytical folks made continental philosophers an in-group “other.” It’s an interesting point, and likely has a good bit to it. But it brings up something that nags at me as someone who came to philosophy from religious studies in the late 1990s, when much of the chaos wreaked by post-analytical folks like Rorty and supposed continental heathen like Derrida and Foucault had been done.

The nagging concern I have is that Glendenning’s explanation did not take into account actual cultural differences that may have borne upon the disciplinary divide. What most caught me about this was his laying forth the stereotyped differences between analytical philosophy, with its argumentative focus, and continental philosophy, which supposedly tends to be less so. (For what it’s worth, that seems accurate enough to me for the types who clearly belong to column A or B.) Might this distinction be partly cultural?

I think so. The direction I come from on this is, presently, a result of legal studies. Here’s my thought: compare the common-law, English-language approach to jurisprudence to that of the civil-law approach characteristic of much of continental Europe. As a simplification, the common law takes an adversarial bent: parties are represented by attorneys who handle much of the questioning and eliciting of facts, make arguments to juries, etc. Also as a simplification, in the civil-law world, the judicial model is much more inquisitorial–that is, less focused on disputation of the facts by the parties.

I realize I’m guilty of oversimplification; but sometimes I worry that we get so wrapped up in the myopia of our own disciplines that we miss the implications of the broader cultural contexts in which our disciplines reside.